CANDIDATE FORUM: The men running to be Sarnia’s mayor

Four men are seeking to become the mayor of Sarnia, and presented here are profiles explaining their reasons for running. One of the candidates, Fred Ingram, did not participate. All profiles by Cathy Dobson, The Journal

MIKE BRADLEY

Mike Bradley

Mike Bradley says 26 years as head of council has changed him and made him a better politician.

“For many years I viewed the mayor’s position as the top of a pyramid with the spotlight on me,” he said. “Now I see my role as a part of a collaboration.

“I’ve learned you don’t always have to win but you always have to learn.”

Bradley was only 33 years old when he became Sarnia’s youngest mayor in 1988.

His early days in office were often full of controversy that sometimes generated bitter feelings on council.

But his last few terms in office have seen little drama.

Bradley, now 59, said he honed his leadership skills by chairing organizations outside city hall, such as the Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership.

“I think I’m more comfortable in my skin as mayor,” he said. “I’ve learned to be more selective (about the issues) I want to charge into.”

Bradley’s popularity among voters has increased every time he’s gone to the polls. In 2010, he won nearly 70% of the vote. If he wins again on Oct. 27, another term will make him mayor for 30 years.

As is his habit, he didn’t register for this campaign until the final day.

Deciding to run is a process that required deep reflection, particularly after a year when both his mother and close family friend Joan Link died, he said. “I don’t just say I want to run. I need to know what my motivation, my purpose, is.”

Looking at the “long view” played a big part in his candidacy.

Bradley said he wants to see projects through like a new detox centre and an updated transportation system for the city.

He wants to continue work on economic diversification, the research park, and he wants to ensure Sarnia become debt-free.

He bristles at the suggestion from challenger Jim Carpeneto that the mayor’s job should be part-time. After all, Bradley is in his office nearly every day.

“It’s a grave injustice to the people of Sarnia if a leader believes we only have part-time problems,” he said.

“I can understand (Carpeneto’s) case because then he can keep his job. But Sarnia needs someone who doesn’t view it as a part-time commitment.”

That commitment has resulted in many accomplishments over the years, said Bradley.

“Thanks to the efforts of many people, we have a homeless shelter, we’ve seen the evolution of industry and we have a research park that is 90% full.

“In the political world, it’s the persistence of the long view that makes those things happen.”

JIM CARPENETO

James Carpeneto

Mayoral candidate Jim Carpeneto says he likes Mike Bradley.

“I’ve voted for Mayor Mike several times when there’s been no one else running that makes sense,” said the 67-year-old lawyer.

But something about Sarnia has changed, compelling Carpeneto to make a run for the mayor’s job.

“It hasn’t been a good four years for this city, with the park shut up and problems with the hospital property,” he said. “It seems like there is a lack of direction.

“The city is not functioning well, yet most of city council wants to come back.”

That includes the incumbent mayor who’s been in office for 26 years.

“I watch council meetings on television and they are long and tedious,” said Carpeneto. He was mayor and reeve in Watford from 1988 to 1994, has been a local school board trustee and chairperson of the economic development commission.

“I’m used to moving things along as fast as possible. If you want something done, you ask a busy person.”

If he becomes mayor, Carpeneto said he will continue his law practice. Sarnia does not need a full-time mayor, he said.

“(Former mayor) Marcel Saddy said it’s not a full-time job. The first time we’ve had a full-time mayor was when Mike came in.  It’s not necessary and it leads to micro-management.”

The current council has often been slow to take action, said Carpeneto.

“Take Centennial Park, for instance.  Were all those studies necessary? We’ve known that asbestos was there for a long time.

“I would have moved the playground,” said Carpeneto. “I wouldn’t have hired outside consultants.

“It looks just terrible. Every time I drive by, I get rankled.  That’s another reason why I’m running.”

Carpeneto was born in Sarnia and later moved to Windsor with his family.  He returned to Sarnia a few years after earning his law degree at Dalhousie University.

For nearly 40 years, he’s focused on real estate, family, estate and civil litigation. For a period, he moved to Watford where he became involved in political life.

Carpeneto said he is not confident he will win against a man who has won the past eight elections.

“But there are problems I see in Sarnia that bother me to the point that I want to change the face of council.

“I’m running because I’m concerned about the next four years.”

JAKE CHERSKI

Jake Cherski

Jake Cherski greets people from behind the counter of his sandwich shop with a wide grin and a hearty hello.

“I’m everyday people,” he announces.  “People say I’m not a politician and I say that’s true.

“I don’t have to lie to you to get your vote.”

Cherski, 46, has never been politically inclined. In fact, any council meeting he has witnessed was on television in his living room. But he’s convinced the city needs his sales skills and he should be mayor.

“I don’t think Mike Bradley is doing anything wrong,” he explained in his typically upbeat way. “He’s done a phenomenal job. But it’s time to focus on new ideas and bringing more population here.

“It’s time to think outside the box.”

Before joining the mayoral race, Cherski was well-known in Sarnia, especially to sports fans.

The single father of three teens is president of the Imperials Football Club and started Pollen Nation for Sting hockey fans.

In 13 years Cherski has missed only three home games at the RBC Centre, drawing attention to himself with colourful costumes, props and a bullhorn.

Some other Sting fans weren’t too enamoured by the bullhorn – they said Cherski was obnoxious – so he stopped using it.  This year, he has created a new costume called “The Menace” and plans to cheer on Sting players wearing a wrestling mask.

“I do it because it makes people smile,” he said. “That’s what I like to see. That’s the reason I’m running for mayor.”

Too few Sarnians are smiling these days, said Cherski.

“The city is dusty.  No one is thriving,” he said. “It needs to be shined up.”

To do that, Cherski proposes to put his sales experience to good use. Before opening his own restaurant in 2013, he sold cars for 17 years.

“To me, the mayor’s job is to sell the city,” he said. “I’m very good at sales. I love talking to people. I’m a good negotiator and I’m fair.

“I can bring business here.”

To try to prove his point, Cherski said he made a few calls to corporations in the GTA to invite them to consider locating in Sarnia. He hasn’t heard back from any of them yet. But he says he has other ideas to pursue, like an amusement park or an aquarium.

“Sarnia is a diamond in the rough but no one can see it,” he said.